In March 2019, Mr. Alay traveled to Moscow, just weeks after leaders of the Catalan independence movement went on trial. Three months later, Mr. Alay went again.

In Russia, according to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met with several active foreign intelligence officers, as well as Oleg V. Syromolotov, the former chief of counterintelligence for the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, who now oversees counterterrorism as a deputy minister at the Russian foreign ministry.

Mr. Alay denied meeting Mr. Syromolotov and the officers but acknowledged meeting Yevgeny Primakov, the grandson of a famous K.G.B. spymaster, in order to secure an interview with Mr. Puigdemont on an international affairs program he hosted on Kremlin television. Last year, Mr. Primakov was appointed by Mr. Putin to run a Russian cultural agency that, according to European security officials, often serves as a front for intelligence operations.

“Good news from Moscow,” Mr. Alay later texted to Mr. Puigdemont, informing him of Mr. Primakov’s appointment. In another exchange, Mr. Dmitrenko told Mr. Alay that Mr. Primakov’s elevation “puts him in a very good position to activate things between us.”

Mr. Alay also confirmed meeting Andrei Bezrukov, a decorated former officer with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. For more than a decade, Mr. Bezrukov and his wife, Yelena Vavilova, were deep cover operatives living in the United States using the code names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley.

It was their story of espionage, arrest and eventual return to Russia in a spy swap that served as a basis for the television series “The Americans.” Mr. Alay appears to have become close with the couple. Working with Mr. Dmitrenko, he spent about three months in the fall of 2020 on a Catalan translation of Ms. Vavilova’s autobiographical novel “The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets,” according to his encrypted correspondence.

Mr. Alay, who is also a college professor and author, said he was invited by Mr. Bezrukov, who now teaches at a Moscow university, to deliver two lectures.

Mr. Alay was accompanied on each of his trips by Mr. Dmitrenko, 33, a Russian businessman who is married to a Catalan woman. Mr. Dmitrenko did not respond to requests for comment. But Spanish authorities have monitored him and in 2019 rejected a citizenship application from him because of his Russian contacts, according to a Spanish Ministry of Justice decision reviewed by The Times.

The decision said Mr. Dmitrenko “receives missions” from Russian intelligence and also “does different jobs” for leaders of Russian organized crime.

A few months after Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow, Catalonia erupted in protests.

A group calling itself Tsunami Democratic occupied the offices of one of Spain’s largest banks, closed a main highway between France and Spain for two days and orchestrated the takeover of the Barcelona airport, forcing the cancellation of more than a hundred flights.

The group’s origins have remained unclear, but one of the confidential police files stated that Mr. Alay attended a meeting in Geneva, where he and other independence activists finalized plans for Tsunami Democratic’s unveiling.

Three days after Tsunami Democratic occupied the Barcelona airport, two Russians flew from Moscow to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, according to flight records obtained by The Times.

One was Sergei Sumin, whom the intelligence report describes as a colonel in Russia’s Federal Protective Service, which oversees security for Mr. Putin and is not known for activities abroad.

The other was Artyom Lukoyanov, the adopted son of a top adviser to Mr. Putin, one who was deeply involved in Russia’s efforts to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

According to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met the two men in Barcelona for a strategy session to discuss the independence movement, though the report offered no other details.

Mr. Alay denied any connection to Tsunami Democratic. He confirmed that he had met with Mr. Sumin and Mr. Lukoyanov at the request of Mr. Dmitrenko, but only to “greet them politely.”

Even as the protests faded, Mr. Puigdemont’s associates remained busy. His lawyer, Mr. Boye, flew to Moscow in February 2020 to meet Vasily Khristoforov, whom Western law enforcement agencies describe as a senior Russian organized crime figure. The goal, according to the report, was to enlist Mr. Khristoforov to help set up a secret funding channel for the independence movement.

In an interview, Mr. Boye acknowledged meeting in Moscow with Mr. Khristoforov, who is wanted in several countries including Spain on suspicion of financial crimes, but said they only discussed matters relating to Mr. Khristoforov’s legal cases.

By late 2020, Mr. Alay’s texts reveal an eagerness to keep his Russian contacts happy. In exchanges with Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Boye, he said they should avoid any public statements that might anger Moscow, especially about the democracy protests that Russia was helping to disperse violently in Belarus.

Mr. Puigdemont did not always heed the advice, appearing in Brussels with the Belarusian opposition and tweeting his support for the protesters, prompting Mr. Boye to text Mr. Alay that “we will have to tell the Russians that this was just to mislead.”

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Of Brexit and Boris: What’s Driving the Call for Scottish Independence

The millions of votes counted across Scotland on Saturday could be among the most consequential in recent times, and not because of their impact on things like health, education and fisheries. The greatest issue facing the country, and the one that was really at stake, was nowhere to be found on the ballot, and that is the future of its 314-year-old union with England.

While the last votes were still being counted on Saturday in the parliamentary elections, it appeared virtually certain that the pro-independence Scottish National Party would fall short of the majority it had hoped would create an irresistible momentum for a new referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. But it will retain power in Edinburgh, probably with the support of the Scottish Greens, guaranteeing that the issue will continue to dominate Scottish politics, as it has in recent years.

A lot. A second independence plebiscite, following one in 2014, could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom. Were Scotland to become independent, Britain would lose eight percent of its population, a third of its landmass and significant amounts of international prestige.

Some say the loss of Scotland would be the biggest blow to a British prime minister since Lord North lost the colonies in America in the 18th century. Understandably, the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, is no fan of the idea.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. Her party has led the Scottish government for 14 years and she has earned praise for her steady handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly compared with the early performance of Mr. Johnson.

There are smaller parties that want another vote, too, like the Greens, who are close to the S.N.P. Another pro-independence party, Alba, is led by Alex Salmond, who is not an ally of Ms. Sturgeon — at least not any more. A former first minister himself, Mr. Salmond was once Ms. Sturgeon’s mentor, but the two have recently been embroiled in a bitter feud, and his election campaign fell flat.

Re-established in 1999, Scotland’s Parliament was designed to quiet calls for Scottish independence, but it hasn’t worked out like that. The pro-independence S.N.P. has become the dominant force and, in 2011, won a rare overall majority in a Parliament where the voting system is designed to avoid any one party’s domination. After that result, the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms. Sturgeon had been hoping that a thumping victory for the pro-independence parties in these elections would give her the moral authority to demand another plebiscite. They fell short, but Ms. Sturgeon will keep up pressure for a referendum claiming that, combined with the vote for the Greens, she has a mandate.

They show a divided Scotland, split down the middle over independence. That is in line with the findings of opinion polls that last year showed a majority favoring independence only to fall back slightly in recent months. The Scottish Conservatives, the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all oppose independence.

So dominant is the issue that some anti-independence voters seem to have switched allegiance from their normal parties to support the one most likely to defeat the S.N.P. in their area. Ms. Sturgeon is on course to remain first minister, which is an impressive achievement, but with her path to an overall majority likely cut off, her moral case for a second referendum has been weakened.

For a second independence referendum to be legal it would almost certainly need the agreement of London, and Mr. Johnson has repeatedly said no. That’s a big problem for Ms. Sturgeon, because she wants the result of any second referendum to be accepted internationally and for Scotland to be allowed to return to the European Union.

Far from it. Even if she has to rely on the Greens, Ms. Sturgeon is likely to have enough votes to push legislation for “indyref2” through the Scottish Parliament and then challenge Mr. Johnson or his allies to stop it in court.

That could cause a constitutional crisis. After all, Scotland’s union with England in 1707 was voluntary, making it hard for London to say no forever to another referendum. And Ms. Sturgeon may calculate that support for independence will only grow if Scots see the popular will being blocked by a government in England.

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Scotland Election Results Complicate Hopes for Independence Referendum

LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland were dampened on Saturday, as early election results showed the dominant Scottish nationalist party falling just short of a majority in the country’s parliament.

The results, if confirmed after the votes are fully counted by Saturday evening, would deprive the Scottish National Party of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in turn, is likely to stiffen the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.

Yet pro-independence parties were on track to stay in overall control, which will keep the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and ensure that the threat of Scotland’s breaking away will continue to bedevil the United Kingdom.

The number of seats won by the Scottish National Party in the election, held on Thursday, is in some ways less important than the political winds, which are still blowing in favor of the separatists. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists could tighten their control over the regional Parliament.

a bitter feud with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, over a botched internal investigation of sexual misconduct charges against him. She was accused of deceiving lawmakers, breaking rules and even conspiring against Mr. Salmond, a former close ally.

Ms. Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the rules and misleading Parliament just as the campaign got underway, but the dispute dented her image. Mr. Salmond launched a breakaway party, Alba, which did not appear on track to win any seats but served as a reminder of the internecine split.

“This year has been quite difficult for the S.N.P. and for Nicola Sturgeon personally,” Professor McEwen said. Also, she added, “The broad shoulders of the U.K. have helped see us through the pandemic.”

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Scottish Election Could Boost Independence Movement

If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.


It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.

When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.

Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.

shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.

Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.

Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.

Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.

Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.

But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.

After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.

There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.

In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.

On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.

Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.

Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.

It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.

Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.

But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.

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U.K. Vote Is Likely to Back Boris Johnson, and an Independent Scotland

LONDON — For an ordinary politician, heading into midterm elections on an unsavory plume of scandal over cellphone contacts with billionaires and a suspiciously funded apartment makeover might seem like the recipe for a thumping. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is not an ordinary politician.

As voters in the country go to the polls on Thursday — with regional and local elections that have been swollen by races postponed from last year because of the pandemic — Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party stands to make gains against a Labour Party that has struggled to make the ethical accusations against him stick.

Far from humbling a wayward prime minister, the elections could extend a realignment in British politics that began in 2019 when the Conservative Party won a landslide general election victory. That would put the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on the back foot and ratify Mr. Johnson’s status as a kind of political unicorn.

“No politician in the democratic West can escape the consequences of political gravity forever, but Boris Johnson has shown a greater capacity to do it than most,” said Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “People see his behavior as evidence of his authenticity.”

defeated in 2014.

emphatically behind a new campaign for Scottish independence.

In the English elections, the big prize is Hartlepool, a struggling northern port city and Labour bastion where a new poll suggests that the Conservatives could win a bellwether seat in a parliamentary by-election. The Tories could make further inroads in other Labour cities and towns in the industrial Midlands and North, where they picked off dozens of seats in 2019, running on Mr. Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done.”

The prime minister did get Brexit done, as of last January. Yet while the split with the European Union brought predicted chaos in shipments of British seafood and higher customs fees on European goods, its effects have been eclipsed by the pandemic — a twist that ended up working to the government’s benefit.

Although the pandemic began as a negative story for Mr. Johnson, with a dilatory response to the first wave of infections that left Britain with the highest death toll in Europe, it turned around with the nation’s rapid rollout of vaccines.

who picked up the initial bill for the upgrade of his apartment and why he was texting the billionaire James Dyson about the tax status of his employees, when the two were discussing a plan for Mr. Dyson’s company to manufacture ventilators.

But there is little evidence that voters are particularly surprised or concerned that Mr. Johnson does not play by the rules. As political commentators have taken to saying this week, the prime minister’s behavior is “priced in.”

The same is not true of Scottish independence. Analysts say Mr. Johnson’s government is not prepared for the wall of pressure it will face if the Scottish National Party wins a majority. The last time the party achieved that, in 2011, Britain’s then-prime minister, David Cameron, yielded to demands for a referendum. In 2014, Scots voted against leaving Britain by 55 percent to 44 percent.

Polls now put the split at roughly 50-50, after a stretch in which the pro-independence vote was solidly above 50 percent. Analysts attribute the slight softening of support to both the vaccine rollout, which showed the merits of staying in the union, as well as an ugly political dispute within Scottish nationalist ranks.

Mr. Johnson holds a trump card of sorts. To be legally binding, an independence referendum would almost certainly have to gain the assent of the British government, so the prime minister can simply say no and hope the problem goes away. But that strategy can work for only so long before becoming untenable.

“I don’t see any way in the world that Boris Johnson turns around the day after the election and says, ‘OK, you can have a referendum,’” said Nicola McEwen, a professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh.

And yet the calls could only grow. “If they manage to peel off a single-party majority,” she said, “it does put pressure on the U.K. to answer the question, ‘If a democratic vote isn’t a mandate for independence, then what is?’”

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Criminal or Martyr? A Prisoner Poses a Political Dilemma For Spain

BARCELONA — Off a leafy boulevard in Barcelona sit the headquarters of Omnium Cultural, an organization known in Spain as much for its literary prizes as for its dreams of an independent republic in Catalonia.

But its president, Jordi Cuixart, is nowhere to be found: For the last three and a half years, he has lived in a prison cell.

To the Spanish authorities, Mr. Cuixart is a dangerous criminal, convicted of sedition for leading a rally at a time when he and other separatist leaders were seeking to set up a breakaway state in the northeastern region of Catalonia. Yet to his supporters, and in the eyes of many foreign countries, he is a political prisoner sitting in the heart of Europe.

“They want us to change our ideals,” Mr. Cuixart said, speaking through a thick pane of glass in the prison visitors’ section on a recent afternoon.

Mr. Cuixart and eight other men jailed for sedition are now martyrs who, according to human rights groups, are being held for nothing more than voicing and acting on their political views.

For the Spanish government — and for Europe as a whole — they have also become a diplomatic headache, raising accusations of hypocrisy against a region known for demanding greater democratic freedoms around the world.

Russia this year cited the Catalonian inmates to deflect calls from Europe for the release of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader. The United States lists the prisoners in its human rights report on Spain and calls their jailing a form of political intimidation.

holding Hungary and Poland accountable to E.U. rule-of-law standards, some European parliamentarians noted a double standard: Spain, they said, held political prisoners.

a regional independence referendum in defiance of the Spanish courts. The national government in Madrid sent in riot squads, which seized ballot boxes and even beat some of the voters.

Separatists claimed victory anyway, despite the fact that more than half of voters did not cast ballots and polls showed that Catalonia was split on independence.

Defiant, the Parliament in Catalonia went ahead and declared independence anyway — only to suspend its own declaration before being dissolved by the Spanish government. By that time, Mr. Cuixart had already been arrested and other separatist leaders fled for Belgium.

In 2019, the courts sentenced Mr. Cuixart and eight others to between nine and 13 years in prison after convicting them of sedition.

“He is in jail simply for exercising his right to express himself,” Esteban Beltrán, who heads the Spanish office of Amnesty International, said of Mr. Cuixart.

the terrorist group ETA, which fought for decades for the independence of the northern Basque region.

“They aren’t political prisoners. These are politicians that have broken the law,” Ms. González Laya said in an interview.

“The question is, do you have in Spain the ability to express a different opinion? Answer: Yes. Do you have the right to unilaterally decide that you break up the country? No,” she added.

But David Bondia, an international law professor in Barcelona, said that the Spanish government was considering an overhaul that would weaken its sedition laws, something he sees as an admission that there had been a mistake in jailing the separatist leaders.

Mr. Cuixart’s case was even more problematic from a legal view. He was the head of a cultural group, yet his sedition trial was conducted under a legal framework reserved for politicians, Mr. Bondia said, raising due-process questions.

For Carles Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia who led the referendum push, the situation recalls the days of the Franco dictatorship, when political opponents lived in fear of persecution.

“For us, this has hit hard and brought us to the past,” he said.

Mr. Puigdemont, who is also wanted on sedition charges, fled Spain in 2017 for Belgium, where he serves in the European Parliament. But his parliamentary immunity was removed in March, allowing for him to be extradited.

approved by voters and the regional Parliament. The move brought widespread anger and separatist flags became common in the countryside.

Soon, Parliament was discussing a move to declare an independent state, long considered a pipe dream of radicals.

Mr. Cuixart, who by 2015 had become the president of Omnium, was sometimes conflicted that his group had also joined the independence push — it was a cultural organization after all, not a political one. But in the end, he said that not joining would have been standing on the wrong side of history.

The crucial day came for Mr. Cuixart on Sept. 20, 2017, when the Spanish police, trying to stop the independence referendum from taking place, had stormed a Catalan regional ministry building on suspicions that plans for the vote were being organized there. But a giant crowd surrounded the location.

Mr. Cuixart and a pro-independence leader, Jordi Sánchez, tried to mediate between the protesters and the police. They set up pathways through the crowd for officers to enter the building and made announcements that anyone considering violence was a “traitor.”

As the night wore on, Mr. Cuixart said that he had feared violent clashes. In a recording, he is seen on top of a vehicle calling for the crowd to disperse. Despite jeers from the protesters, most left and Mr. Cuixart said that he then went to bed.

The vote was held amid the crackdown the next month. But Mr. Cuixart recalled an earlier act of civil disobedience when there were no consequences after he dodged a military draft as a young man. He thought he had little to fear this time around.

But then the charges came: sedition, one of the highest crimes in Spain. Such draconian charges for activity at a protest surprised even legal experts who said that the sedition laws — which cover crimes less serious than full-out rebellion — had been rarely used in a country.

“I had to look up what ‘sedition’ even was,” Mr. Cuixart said.

Mr. Cuixart now spends his days at the Lledoners prison, a penitentiary built for about 1,000 inmates, and home to convicted drug peddlers and murderers. He said he spends his afternoons meditating and writing letters.

Jordi Cañas, a Spanish member of the European Parliament who is against Catalan independence, said he felt little pity for Mr. Cuixart’s situation because the separatists brought it on themselves.

“I don’t forgive them because they’ve broken our society,” Mr. Cañas said, adding that the independence push still divided Spanish homes. “I have friends I no longer speak to over this.”

Mr. Cuixart, for his part, said he was not asking for forgiveness. He would do it all over again, he said. It was Spain that needed to change, he said, not him.

“At some point, Spain is going to have to reflect and ask themselves, ‘What are they going to do with me?’” he said. “Eliminate me? They can’t.”

Leire Ariz Sarasketa contributed reporting from Madrid.

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Indonesian General Is Killed in Rebel Ambush, Sparking Fears of Retaliation

Indonesia’s top intelligence official in Papua Province was a one-star general who did not believe in leading from his office. A Bali native, Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha rose through the ranks of Indonesia’s feared special forces and often went on patrol with troops in areas where separatist rebels were known to stage attacks.

“Ambushes and gunfights are common,” said Wawan Hari Purwanto, a spokesman for the State Intelligence Agency. “But he always chose to be at the front in every patrol and observation, including in gunfights. He didn’t want to be just behind a desk.”

On Sunday, General Danny, 51, walked into his final ambush. He was shot and killed near a church in remote Dambet Village in Papua’s central highlands. Now, human rights activists fear that President Joko Widodo’s call for a strong response to the general‘s death may prompt harsh reprisals against the Indigenous population in Indonesia’s easternmost province.

In announcing the killing on Monday, Mr. Joko called on the army and the police to hunt down and arrest every member of the group responsible for the general’s death. General Danny was the first general to die in action in Indonesia’s history, an army spokesman said.

takes up the western half of the island of New Guinea. It was occupied and annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, but many Indigenous Papuans favor independence and separatist groups have been waging a low-level insurgency campaign for decades.

a local news outlet. There was no further explanation.

The ambush took place about 20 miles northeast of the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine, a symbol of the exploitation of Papua’s natural resources by foreign interests. Operated for decades by the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan, it was taken over in 2018 by an Indonesian state-owned company.

Mr. Wawan, the intelligence agency spokesman, said the ambush did not result from an intelligence failure and that the general was well aware of the risks.

“To die in the line of duty is a matter of the highest pride,” he said.

In a statement on Monday announcing General Danny’s death, the intelligence agency said it “continues to improve early detection and early prevention” of attacks by violent groups in Papua. The general’s visit was made in “an effort to increase the morale and spirit of the people who have been disturbed by the cruelty and savagery of the Papuan separatist and terrorist group,” the statement said.

seven Kopassus soldiers were convicted in the murder of the prominent independence leader, Theys Eluay.

Human rights activists said the impending crackdown could prompt retaliation against Indigenous people.

“Human rights defenders are really worried,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights attorney and activist based in Australia who follows events in Papua. “We can already see that an additional military operation is coming to Papua because of this killing.”

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More Than 1,800 Prisoners Break Out of Jail in Nigeria

DAKAR, Senegal — The Nigerian authorities say they are searching for about 1,800 inmates who escaped from a prison aided by heavily armed gunmen in the southeastern corner of the country, where anti-government separatists have long been active.

The authorities laid blame for the jailbreak on a rebel group that promotes the decades-old cause of secession for Nigeria’s southeastern corner, popularly known as Biafra.

The escapes came as security has been declining in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, where kidnapping has become rife and the army has been deployed to respond to security threats, including terrorism and banditry, in almost every state.

Prison officials said that early on Monday morning, men armed with sophisticated weapons arrived at a prison in Owerri, in southeastern Imo State. They exchanged fire with security personnel, according to prison officials, and then used explosives to blast their way into the prison yard.

Nigeria’s security services have launched a search operation to recapture the inmates. They put the number of escapees at 1,844.

Prison officials said in a statement that they were “appealing to the good citizens of Imo State and indeed Nigerians to volunteer useful intelligence that will facilitate the recovery effort.”

They said all officers at other prisons should “remain vigilant at this trying moment in our history,” suggesting concern about further prison breaks.

A few prisoners were trickling back into custody, accompanied by their relatives or lawyers, Francis Enobore, a spokesman for the prison system in Nigeria, said in a WhatsApp exchange. Thirty-five inmates refused to leave when the jailbreak happened, he said.

The police said that the attackers were members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a secessionist group that has been banned in Nigeria since 2017 and is designated as a “militant terrorist organization” by the government.

But a spokesperson for the Indigenous People of Biafra denied that the group — or its paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network — were involved.

“E.S.N. is in the bush chasing terrorists and have no business with the said attacks,” the spokesperson, Emma Powerful, said in a statement. “It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities.”

There were no casualties among the police, who repelled an attack on the armory at the prison, according to Frank Mba, a police spokesman.

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Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon Did Not Break Rules, Inquiry Says

LONDON — Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, did not knowingly breach official rules or mislead the Scottish Parliament about an investigation of her predecessor, an inquiry concluded on Monday, effectively clearing her of allegations so serious that they had sparked calls for her resignation.

The investigation by a senior Irish lawyer, James Hamilton, followed months of infighting over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a botched internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made against Alex Salmond, a former close ally who preceded her as first minister of Scotland.

“I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters,” Mr. Hamilton’s inquiry concluded, referring to the ethics code under which members of the Scottish government operate.

The report culminates a bitter feud between the two dominant figures of recent Scottish politics, a drama that has dented Ms Sturgeon’s fortunes, prompting accusations that she had deceived lawmakers, broken rules and even conspired against her predecessor.

Opposition politicians had called for Ms. Sturgeon’s resignation, and she was under acute pressure earlier this month, when she gave evidence for eight hours to a parliamentary committee in a separate inquiry into the same events.

Mr. Hamilton’s clear conclusions appear to end any prospect of Ms. Sturgeon quitting and mean that she is likely to survive a no-confidence vote in the Scottish Parliament if one goes ahead this week.

However the crisis has cast a shadow over the push for Scottish independence, as well as Ms. Sturgeon’s career, just as the independence campaign appeared close to a breakthrough.

Buoyed by a succession of opinion polls showing majority support for independence, Ms. Sturgeon was hoping that her Scottish National Party, the largest faction in the Scottish Parliament, would win an overall majority in elections scheduled for May, and then demand a second referendum on whether to break her country’s 314-year-old union with England.

In the 2014 independence referendum, 55 percent of Scottish voters favored remaining within the United Kingdom. But since then, Britain has left the European Union, a deeply unpopular project in Scotland, where 62 percent voted against Brexit in a 2016 referendum.

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, is not a popular figure in Scotland in contrast to Ms. Sturgeon whose management of the pandemic has won her plaudits.

The infighting among Scottish leaders is all the more remarkable because Ms. Sturgeon was Mr. Salmond’s protégé and served as his deputy for a decade, ultimately succeeding him after his resignation in 2014, when Scotland voted against independence.

Like him, she had a reputation for running the Scottish National Party as a disciplined force in which few public differences were aired in public.

That unity has been blown apart in a bitter rift over the Scottish government’s handling of complaints made against Mr. Salmond in 2018, alleging sexual misconduct in 2013. He argued that the internal processes were flawed, took his case to court and won, forcing the Scottish government to pay out £500,000 — almost $700,000 — in legal costs.

Mr. Salmond, who has admitted to being “no angel” and said he wishes he had been more careful with other people’s personal space, always insisted he did not break the law. When the police prosecuted him, Mr. Salmond was found not guilty on 13 charges of sexual assault including one of attempted rape.

The fallout from that verdict in 2020 has grown into a bewilderingly complicated but intensely personal battle between the former allies.

As in many political scandals, the accusation most damaging to Ms. Sturgeon was of failing to tell the truth — in her case, about the sequence of events during her government’s botched internal investigation into Ms. Salmond’s case.

Misleading Parliament and breaking ministerial rules are normally considered such serious offenses that they lead to calls for resignation.

Ms. Sturgeon has admitted that she did not give the full picture when she said that she had first heard about the allegations against Mr. Salmond on April 2, 2018, during a meeting with him at her home. In fact she had been given some earlier warning by his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on March 29, she now acknowledges.

Mr. Salmond contends that, at that stage, Ms. Sturgeon offered to intervene in the case. She denies that, but in a parliamentary committee hearing she conceded that she may not have been blunt enough about not intervening, because of her long friendship with her former mentor.

In his report Mr. Hamilton described Ms. Sturgeon’s failure to mention the earlier meeting as regrettable and something that would be greeted with suspicion, even skepticism, by some.

However he added: “I find it difficult to think of any convincing reason why, if she had in fact recalled the meeting, she would have deliberately concealed it while disclosing all the conversations she had had with Mr. Salmond.”

Mr. Hamilton is a former director of public prosecutions in Ireland, and an independent adviser to the Scottish government on its ministerial code. Parts of his report were redacted, however, prompting complaints from Ms. Sturgeon’s critics.

The parliamentary committee’s report into the same event is expected to be more critical of Ms. Sturgeon but, because its findings are likely to be seen as more influenced by politics, they are unlikely to seriously damage to her.

The committee’s report is scheduled to be published on Tuesday but, according to leaks, opinion among its members appears to have split on party lines, tilting against Ms. Sturgeon by one vote. Last week she dismissed that as a partisan attack.

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E.U. Parliament Strips Carles Puigdemont of Immunity

MADRID — The European Parliament has stripped the immunity of Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of Catalonia, clearing the way for Spain to make a fresh attempt to extradite him from Belgium and try him on sedition charges.

The European Parliament said on Tuesday that a majority of its members had voted a day earlier in a secret ballot to remove the immunity of Mr. Puigdemont and two other Catalan members of the assembly who face charges in Spain related to a botched attempt to declare Catalonia’s independence in 2017. Spain’s judiciary has charged that their bid was unconstitutional.

The vote on Monday ended a lengthy battle by Mr. Puigdemont and his colleagues to use their protection as elected members of the European assembly to shield them from prosecution in Spain. Now it is up to the Belgian judiciary to rule on whether Mr. Puigdemont should be sent back to the Spanish capital, Madrid, to stand trial.

“It is a sad day for the European Parliament,” Mr. Puigdemont said. “We have lost our immunity, but the European Parliament has lost more than that and as a result, European democracy too,” he said, adding that this was “a clear case of political prosecution.”

regional elections in Catalonia that increased the majority of pro-independence parties in the regional Parliament. Separatist politicians have held control since 2015, but the secessionist conflict has split Catalan society while also remaining a highly contentious issue in national politics.

ousted his regional government for holding a referendum that Spanish courts had ruled illegal and then declaring Catalonia’s independence.

During the past three years, Mr. Puigdemont has successfully fought off attempts to extradite him both from Belgium and Germany, where he was briefly detained during a trip.

Ioannis Lagos, who was sentenced in Greece last year for his activities with the far-right Golden Dawn party. The Greek government considers Golden Dawn a criminal organization.

The Catalan case has divided politicians in Brussels, many of them loathe to set a precedent of lawmakers being tried over political activity. The removal of Mr. Puigdemont’s immunity was approved by three-fifths of the members of the European Parliament.

It could take months for Belgian courts to rule on Spain’s latest attempt to extradite Mr. Puigdemont and the two other Catalan leaders, Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.

The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office is examining the possibility of renewing legal proceedings in Belgium, a spokeswoman for the office said.

Should the Belgian courts block the extradition request, the Catalans would continue to sit in the European Parliament, but without special immunity rights.

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